PhD project but may also be considered for an Honours project
Background: Mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, afflict around half of the population at some point in their lives and account for a substantial proportion of the global burden of disease. Recently, significant progress has been made in identifying genetic (i.e. inherited) risk factors associated with mental health disorders through genome-wide association (GWA) studies of large, population-based cohorts.
Although these GWA studies have implicated many genetic risk factors for mental health disorders, identifying the exact causal genes remains challenging. This is due in part to complex interactions between multiple cellular data types in specific tissues that are likely to mediate susceptibility. Integrated studies of multiple cellular data, such as DNA sequence variation, gene expression, and DNA methylation, in relevant tissues is therefore required to understand the impact of genetic risk factors in mental health.
This project will use high quality gene expression and DNA methylation data measured whole blood to characterise genetic risk factors underlying mental health disorders. Analyses will then be conducted across tissues using several publicly available multi-tissue genomic compendia. This study will provide a unique resource to identify and characterise novel genetic factors underlying susceptibility to mental health disorders. The identification of such causal genes is the next crucial step in elucidating the complex molecular pathways of mental health disorders and may help in the development of diagnostic tests and more rational treatment strategies.